The use of media to propagate disinformation and propaganda finds its roots in the 17th century, and in the course of years it has acquired a pretty terrible reputation. Turning back the pages of history, in November 1941, the Nazi regime anticipated that some Germans will find out the truth that disabled war veterans, prominent musicians, and artist Jews were sent to the East to perform laborious tasks. They cynically publicized the existence of Theresienstadt, where they claimed that Jews of Germany, Austria, and the Czech lands were kept as a residential community. The Nazi officials professed publicly that in these places elderly Jews could retire and live peacefully. This fiction was invented for domestic consumption within the Greater German Reich. In reality, it served as a transit camp for deportations to ghettos and killing centers in German-occupied Poland, Baltic states and Belarussia.
Head of the Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, Joseph Goebbles, a high ranking officer in the Hitler dictatorship, set up a separate department that solely dealt with newspapers. He invigilated the content of every newspaper and among them was Volkischer Beobachter translated as Racial Observer. It was the principal daily newspaper and was used to sell whatever Goebbels wanted. The newspaper lauded anti-semitism, anti-liberalism, and completely mirrored the ideology of Adolf Hitler. The paper gave space to those stories which praised the regime, anything with an opposing view was outrightly rejected.
Apart from Germany, the French media refused to cover the despotism, absolute oppression and scourge of brutalities performed by rulers of country over the impoverished Algerian society. The perception haunts their media till date.
The magic of media propaganda works at a psychological level. Various techniques are used to scheme and channelise the information in a way to influence behavioural attitude, to design a certain paradigm about a phenomenon, to frame the mental inclination, to persuade, to support and to denounce a certain ideology.
As McCombs and Shaw wrote in their Agenda-setting theory: “media sets the public agenda, in the sense that they may not exactly tell you what to think, but they may tell you what to think about.”
Also, Goffman, an American Sociologist in his article, under the title of Frame Analysis writes: “media outlets not only tell the audience what to think about (agenda-setting theory), but also how to think about that issue (second level agenda setting, framing theory).”
Our generation has also witnessed the manipulation of media to distort, decontextualise, and falsify the various happenings on the ground. Whether that is the campaign initiated by western media to cultivate the belief in the minds of world population that the dictatorial former president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, possessed a weapon of mass destruction, later deemed untrue; the media censorship of the brutalities performed by the Israeli defence forces on the innocent Palestinians; the demonisation of Rohingya Muslims by mainstream media of Mynanmar; and the dehumanisation of Kashmiris by the mainstream media of the India.
In 2016, Mynanmar’s most widely known state newspaper compared Rohingya Muslims to human fleas, as a report, quoting the paper, in the Public Radio International states: “This “morally bad” group of people are “loathe for their stench and for sucking our blood.” And the nation’s citizenry must “constantly be wary of the dangers of detestable human fleas.””
Similarly, Indian media, specifically the electronic medium, is tirelessly busy in colouring the entire population of Kashmir as traitors, terrorists, anti-nationals and a breed that should be damned and doomed. They invariably run news shows and debates that aim at maligning and distorting the very image of a Kashmiri resident. And the role of this half-true, Manichean manifestation of situation in Kashmir is the cause of hatred and extreme dislike towards them outside the state. Not mentioning the evolution of ‘siege mentality’ syndrome, that prevents the Kashmiris, even to roam freely in the other parts of the Indian republic.
Evidently, the conflict areas prove to be a fertile land for the propaganda war machine. Since the State, in order to crush the voice and dissent of a common man, openly directs its proprietary media outlets to criminalise and project him as an enemy of the state. The other private media outlets, mostly owned by people with commercial marketing mentalities, join the state in the race.
The Indian media network, in spite of analysing the basic and grave issues the country faces — unprecedented inflation, malnutrition, starvation, corruption, farmer suicides, human resource development — pull their brains out on issues which in no way concern the interest of the masses. Subjects such as cinema and cricket dominate the broadcasting hours of the media channel. Where Kashmir situation finds scarce attention, hours of prime time is dedicated to ‘inform’ people about the new animals adopted by celebrities, new developments in saas-bahu serials, and much more trash. And this strategy is intentionally used to blur the truth and confuse the public.
The media of our times is a victim of propaganda syndrome. The reason why media does this is explicitly theorized by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, in their article titled, ‘A Propaganda Model’. They believe that, “advertising, concentrated ownership, dependence on government, businessmen, for information, anti-communism has led to this grim picture of mass media.”
The DD Kashmir channel, financed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, is also a fine example of propaganda tool. Since decades, its owners have rigorously advocated for programmes that have largely not only influenced but changed the mental attitude of the Kashmiris. Rather than reporting the ground situation of Kashmir, it has faithfully been active in launching a psychological war against the neighbouring State. Shows like, “Sarhad Ke Do Rukh”, “PTV Sach Kya Hai”, “Pakistan Reporter”, in which internal matters of another country are deliberated upon, depict the true nature of state sponsored media, it follows that the administration diverges the attention of people from much larger and crucial issues of the state.
On the one hand these media channels have never conducted debates on issues like Kunan Poshpora, nor have they talked about the facts related to Tufail Matoo’s brutal murder by the Indian forces. These channels emotionalise the news of killings of armed forces, but remain dead silent when an innocent youth is mutilated by the CRPF jawans. The mourning of the dead armed personnel is exclusively broadcasted on their channels whereas no information is shown related to the college graduate, Matoo, who was blinded and later succumbed to the pellet injuries.
From sedition charges against separatists to the terrorisation of stone-pelters, everything is taken up on these shows. However, grave violation of human rights, fake encounters, custodial killings that haunt the minds of the inhabitants of valley have never been given an iota of space by these channels.
Everything said, the truth never dies. As rightly said by Aldous Huxley, “Facts don’t cease to exist because they are ignored.”